Some Perumal Murugan Shorts Please!

With the stay-at-home routine becoming the new norm one has a whole new array of activities- work from home, household chores, reading new books, learning a new course, trying out a new hobby and spending time with family and pets that have been shelved off for too long, do add to the list if you have more activities in mind. For me, it has been mostly been catching up on my reading habits and with Juggernaut making its entire catalog freely accessible, I didn’t have to look too far, so I #ReadInstead. Being a fan of short stories, my first preference was to download a few by Perumal Murugan, one of my favorite authors. Having previously read his novels like One Part Woman, Poonachi, and others; I was keen to read his shorts. In this post, I talk about five of his short stories which I read and liked, you can find more in the short stories compilation called The Goat Thief.

The Well  – Who could have thought that something as simple as a well can give so much joy to people- the young and the old. When three children invite a man to take a swim with them in the nearby well, it does not strike him that the experience will be unforgettable. One just needs to be courageous enough to take the leap of faith. Once that is accomplished, the vast expanse of the well is their playground. The cold water caresses the body providing relief from the scorching sun complemented by the occasional cool breeze. The isolation of the well from the rest of the world gives the much-needed seclusion that one longs for. BUT, sometimes a well has a mind of its own. ‘In fact, it is the well’s trickery. Its invitation to step in. If a man visits once, the well casts a spell that goads him to return again and again.’ (translated from Neer Vilayattu by N. Kalyan Raman)

Ask for the Moon- When an otherwise quiet and content child starts wailing one night, it brings thick lines of worry on the faces of the family. Is it a bad dream? Is the child thirsty or hungry? Has the child been possessed by some evil spirit? Does the child need medical attention? But when two gibberish words come out from the mouth amidst the loud wailings, the family leaves no stones unturned to identify and present the child with what it was looking for. A very relatable story which shows that parents are willing to go to any extent in order to fulfill wishes and to see that their child is having a comfortable life. It is only a matter of time to see whether such an attitude spoils the child or makes him/ her understand the worth of parents and respect them even more. (translated from Peridhinum Peridhu)

Sanctuary- It is said that a child inside an individual never dies no matter how old he/she grows. When a middle-aged man returns to his native village and finds his old friends are either entwined in the shackles of marriage or have become intellectual beings, he tries to find solace in locating a group of children playing in the well and befriending them. His ‘primary motive must have been to win back my childhood’ but transcending the age barrier especially when it means to join those who are younger is no less a challenge in itself. What is physically possible by children in terms of fluidity and flexibility is impossible by the physique of a grown-up man which leads to the existence of a divide- mentally and physically. Moreover, children often prefer to be more attached to those within the same age –group. Will they accept an older man among them? Will the knots of worldliness be undone?  Will childhood overtake the persona of the man? Sanctuary is a story of letting go of the inner fear, shame, stigma, and prejudice to be able to complete ones transgression through age. (translated from Pugalidam by N.Kalyan Raman)

The Man Who Could Not Sleep- Muthu Pattar is a man famous for his sleep patterns. Going straight to sleep after a hard day’s work and waking up exactly when he wants to is his forte. But what happens when he suddenly starts showing signs of sleeplessness? Is it the village demon who has taken hold of him? Is he diagnosed with terrible insomnia? Is something in his unconscious mind worrying him that he has had to let go of his peaceful sleep? A simple story of how one man’s anxieties take hold of him and those around showing beautifully that sometimes problems are not only of those who are facing them but also for their dear ones. (translated from Kombai Chuvar by N. Kalyan Raman)

The Unexpected Visitor- The elders usually find a daily routine for themselves in the peacefulness of the village. They garner respect but are also victims of banters from the local men and women folk. Such is the daily life of Paati, till her granddaughter leaves her son Kunju with her. This changes the way she has been living alone for years and makes her adapt to all the changes that would ensure Kunju to have a comfortable life in the village. She starts making new dishes for him, worrying if he gets late while playing with his newfound friends, and tries to give him everything that he wants that makes him happy. It is almost as if she has a new objective in life. But with old age comes an enormous amount of self –doubt especially when it comes to taking the responsibility of a child. Will Paati ultimately be able to manage this responsibility or will self-doubt take the better of her? (translated from Veppenei Kalayam)

Murugan’s short stories reflect the simple village life but if you read between the lines of the instances, they are not –so –simple. Each story is bound to take you on a contemplating spree about life and the way we choose to live it. There are several other short stories by Murugan and you can read them in the compilation available on Flipkart, Amazon, and Juggernaut App.

So, Keep Reading until next time!

little grey lies by Hédi Kaddour

little grey lies by Hédi Kaddour bares the lies in which an individual entangles oneself in order to please the society. The storyline is simplistic. Max, a journalist meets Lena, his singer friend (read ex-beloved) in London, gets intrigued by the Battle of Mons and its veteran Colonel Strether, and starts regularly meeting him for an interesting story. Kaddour must be credited for having kept the narration simple and yet filling it in with layers of intellect and self-reflection within the lines. At times, it compels the readers to keep wondering how many lies they really come face to face with each day.

The story distinctly talks about finding one’s identity in the world. One tends to build an identity devoid of happiness and contentment for showing to the world. Lena is prone to daydreaming about a happy blissful life with her partner, which otherwise is not so happy. She tries to raise her voice in an attempt to make her opinions matter but soon tends to lose most arguments and agrees to what her partner says in order to keep him happy while lying to herself all along. Max on the other hands frequently meets Lena trying to gauge if she still has any feelings left for him. He hopes that one day they might see the world together.

Through Lena, the author shows how women are made to compromise quite so often for society and in the name of it. She understands very well that the relationship will neither last long nor have any future, but still holds onto her bondage. It is mostly because she creates a shell of false protection and hierarchy amongst her peers through her relationship. One slight mistake and her entire image will crumble down. It is not that she does not try to break free, but what stops her is the fact that it is easier to think of breaking away but difficult to accept it once done. This questions the rationality of binding oneself despite knowing the ultimate outcome. However, if she succeeds, not only will she have a happier life but also imbibe the truth that women are capable of living without support.

The era in which the story is set in plays a crucial part in shaping the mindset of the characters. London in the 1930s is completely in the garbs of patriarchy and male monotony in society. Women are not allowed to leave their homes or linger around post evening unless they are in the company of men. Forgetting the existing pay difference in the daily wages, women holding important positions in the office are ordered to vacate their seats for the war-returned heroes. They are also subjected to mental torture living with their husbands/ sons/ partners who often develop PTSD. These are clear indications that women are not allowed to have a voice of their own. That is why even Lena is almost always seen in the company of either Max or her partner. It reflects the kind of world where women’s individuality is a complete lie. But the twist in this tale comes when Max and Lena meet a stranger who is courageous enough to defy these patriarchal rules and carve out a path of existence. In a society that swears by the strict rules of conduct for women, someone dares to defy them and mingle with the society bluffing them every single time. It is actually quite shameful to see that individuals need to take such drastic steps to carve an identity for themselves.

To be honest, though the book talks of the 1930s, readers can openly relate to the scenario today and still find that nothing has majorly changed. Individuals still fight for their choices, their existence, their right to live the way they want to, and for society to accept their truth. But what has changed is that people are more accommodating towards accepting facts rather than building castles of lies around them like yesteryears. Even if they do build alternate identities for themselves, it is remarkable to see how true they appear to be and how slowly they become the truth for the individual and for the society. Hence, they become ‘grey lies’ – neither the truth and nor a complete bluff.

The novel speaks of the on-going struggles within oneself and with the society to establish an individual’s identity. Many succeed in the long-drawn and emotionally draining fight. Many succumb and continue living far from the truth in a life of little grey lies.

No of pages: 176

Publisher: Seagull Books

Available on: Amazon/ Flipkart/ Seagull Bookstore

Yours Truly has also recently been featured as one of the Top 100 Indian Book Review Blogs and Websites by Feedspot. You can check out the article here.

Sesher Kobita: Rabindranath Tagore

One banked on her sacrifice, and the other wanted her love!

My first exposure to Tagore’s Sesher Kobita was during a discussion by veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee. But picking up bits and pieces of the story did not really help much, given that I have been hearing it’s a great narration. It was only last week that I finally completed reading the book and what would be a better time than on the occasion of Rabindra Jayanti to put forward my views of it.

Sesher Kobita literally translates to The Last Poem and definitely, the story has a loud poetic touch to it while circling around the lives of Labanyalata and Amit. Amit is the quintessential bhodrolok of Calcutta, apparently enmeshed in literature and poetry; so much so, that the readers often get glimpses of his alter ego- Nibaran Chakraborty. Labanya, on the other hand, is practical, ambitious, and even competitive on several levels, though working as a Governess has mellowed her.  She has always shunned the existence of love in her life and even shoos away the one man who has dearly loved her. Nevertheless, a sudden car collision on the slopes of Shillong introduces Amit and Labanya to each other where the former gets smitten by the latter and even musters up the courage to propose to her a few months later.

It is this proposal from whence the actual story starts.  The practical nature of Labanya poses questions to Amit which are both deeply intellectual and highly relevant. For a person like Amit who is always riding on the clouds with his thoughts, it will be sooner than later that Labanya’s mind and actions will fall short; and he will leave her far behind with his intellectual superiority.  One can question here, whether she is really being practical or hiding her insecurities in the garb of Amit’s colorful nature. Going a step ahead and metaphorically using history to continue her point, she relates that ‘To realize his [Shah Jahan] dream, her [ Mumtaz] death was necessary’; or else why will Shah Jahan take pride in a mausoleum of his lover’s death and become internationally famous? This reflects a stark understanding and hatred towards patriarchy and gender inequality through Labanya’s eyes.

Creativity and Preservation have been cleverly merged into the narration of Sesher Kobita. While Amit is creative and does not lose a chance to display the same; Labanya is quiet, conservative, and preserves moments, memories, and life. An interesting explanation given by Tagore here is that Creativity and Preservation cannot complement each other because of their functional nature. To Create is to destroy, rebuild, and renew what is preserved; and to Preserve one needs to stop creatively building upon what exists. So it can well mean that to unite, both Amit and Labanya or at least one of them has to give up their individuality. But is it worth it?

Trust forms the basis of any relationship and even if an iota of doubt creeps in; it is powerful enough to break the relation. Much that Amit loves Labanya, but her recitation of her ex-lover’s words definitely leaves a cringe in Amit’s mind. It leads him to doubt the relationship that he is aiming for. He too starts thinking practically that it is very easy to please one’s partner through mellifluous words and creative imagery during courtship, but once a union stands true both the individuals have to come together as a whole by sacrificing parts of their individuality to accept the other.

Much that we say that marriage is a union of two souls, one cannot disperse the fact blatantly that family has an important role in it. Amit belongs to the so-called elite class of Calcutta whose life is engulfed by the literary circles and social gatherings, while Labanya belongs to the scholarly middle class. Her meeting with Amit’s family renews the latent self-doubts about the unison that she has borne within herself. This along with a letter from her ex-lover gives the storyline an interesting direction.

Will Labanya re-establish connections with her ex-lover? Will she accept her relationship with Amit devoid of doubts? Will Amit’s family approve of Labanya whom they look down upon as a mere-Governess? Reading this poetic narration will give you your answers. Looking closely at the story you will find that Labanya in her quiet demeanor is the perfect rebel to the societal standards of yesteryears, quite similar to Tagore’s other leading ladies. Her questioning the unquestioned and taken-for-granted norms of patriarchy raises pertinent questions in the minds of the readers as to what will be the definition of a perfect union and how can it be achieved whole-heartedly.

I would suggest if you can read Bangla please read the original text.  Should you want to read translations like I did, the details are mentioned below.

No. of Pages: 211

Publisher: Rupa

Available on: Amazon

Translated from: Sesher Kobita by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Anindita Mukhopadhyay

 

Barff- Saurabh Shukla

Set amidst a scenic yet deserted village in the valleys of Kashmir, Barff is a story of one extraordinary night where a doctor, Dr. Kaul, is requested and fetched from the city to look into the health problems of Gulam Rasul’s son, Jigra. Gulam lives in this secluded village with his wife, Nafisa, and their only son. As it is difficult to get any amenities where they live, the Doctor was indeed a God-sent miracle.

Rasul from the very beginning is portrayed as a mysterious man. His words at times hold no meaning to an educated and practical country-doctor. But then will words like (translated to English) ‘no one else lives in the village’ or ‘ Nafisa and I light the lamps of all the houses of the village so that it seems it is inhabited’ make any sense to anybody? As the mystery builds up, the Doctor and Rasul make it to the latter’s house and meets his wife Nafisa and son- Jigra. What transpires next is impossible to comprehend or understand by practical minds.

Barff, originally written and performed as a play has been recently given the form of a book. This play by the renowned actor Saurabh Shukla is a cult thriller in the Hindi language. Thriller, it is believed is a very tricky genre. It takes a lot of hard-work in penning down a perfect thriller to appease the audience.  Furthermore, this is a genre definitely less explored in Hindi language or literature, especially in contemporary times. What is most interesting is that the author does not kill anyone to build up the atmosphere. Rather it has been very subtly done through the dialogues and conjuring up an apt atmosphere.

Rasul and his wife, Nafisa share a bickering yet loving bond as husband and wife. Rasul’s love for his wife is quite visible through his actions as often he ends up doing things which he knows at heart are wrong.  He gives Nafisa the independence to think and believe in what she wants to. The freedom of thought is indeed quite overpowering as one can feel as the story progresses.

Shukla touches on the themes of mental health and alternate reality through the play. The effect of mental health is portrayed not as much as on the person suffering through trauma but mostly on those surrounding them.  Post-reading the entire play what remains with me is the line (translated to English) – Reality is based on beliefs without which reality alone has no meaning. This definitely is food for thought. The idea of what is the reality in its truest sense has been beautifully explained in the story. Is reality always perceived literally in what is in front of a person; but then do people not have the right to choose what they want to literally see and therefore make their own world out of it? Further, he goes on to explore who decides the ultimate truth for a person – that individual or the onlookers; and if it is indeed the onlookers then who gives them the right to decide on someone else’s reality.

Barff connects with the readers on various intellectual levels. A simple mysterious atmosphere and a story of just one night elaborate some pertinent and yet unasked questions of life. What remains with the readers are not the characters, but the simplicity with which these complicated situations have been portrayed.  It also compels one to contemplate as to what is the way of life that one has been leading so far. In the literal sense, Barff translates to ice. Cold and freezing ice sets shivers up your spine once you touch it, just like the atmosphere of the story. Ice is used to heal hurt minds and bodies, just like the way the past of the characters soothe each other’s hurt minds. Moreover, when the ice melts it becomes water, a colorless and odorless shape-shifting liquid much like the way our thoughts never stay at one place and our ideas keep changing rapidly, molding itself with the situation in hand.

It is not every day that one reads a thriller, so aptly put, which explores the cultural milieu of Kashmir, gives food for thought, breaks the monotony with its perfect comic timing, and also highlights the effects of a war-torn state on its residents.  Although the book is in Hindi, it is worth a read. Shukla’s brilliance in the industry for decades has culminated into this wonderful script which definitely leaves a mark on the readers and compels them to visualize the world through renewed energy, understanding, and knowledge.

No. of Pages: 94

Publisher:  Rajkamal Prakashan

Available on: Flipkart/ Amazon

Rating: 4/5

Being Reshma: Reshma Qureshi with Tania Singh

‘I have later wondered if I should have slept in for those five extra minutes, worn my new burqa, stayed back with my mother, turned around for my cell phone, stopped and bought those shoes, or haggled over an apple.’

It is said that each second counts, and so it did for Reshma. But when you overcome tragedy, depression, self-consciousness, and make progress in the world that is the true win for an individual and a slap-on-the-face for the culprits.

Being Reshma is the story of the transformation of the girl-next-door to an International Icon, full of inspiration, courage, and emotion. The story begins on an uneventful day while Reshma is going to school. A long pent up angst and vengeance of her oldest brother-in-law along with his comrades burns the course of her normal life by throwing acid on her face.  From then on it is an arduous journey to which at times there seems to be no silver lining. Hospitals, surgeons, medical practitioners, operations, and therapies swallow the life of a young girl. But it is her will to survive and determination to get back even stronger so that she can make a statement in the society holds her through the depressing times. She understands the loyalty of people surrounding her in times of need and thus apart from her family which stands as a rock behind her, Ria Sharma enters her life as a savior. The Founder of Make Love Not Scars not only helps crowdfund for her treatments and get the best surgeon to operate on her but also makes her the face of her start-up and their friendship grows stronger by the day.

Coming from a community that is conservative and strictly demarcates between the sons and daughters of the family, Reshma has seen her elder sister Gulshan, dropping out of school to take care of the family during her mother’s critical illness. Soon after, she is married off to a family that tortures and overburdens her with chores and into a relationship that chokes her of independence and happiness. Tired of domestic violence and mental torture, Gulshan’s decision to come out of a disastrous marriage and live with her parents is a bold one. But the anger and will to avenge such a strong decision taken by a woman, who is considered lowly in the community, lead to the tragedy thereafter. It is not sure if the acid is really meant for Reshma but it surely makes the impact that satisfies the avengers.

Being Reshma is a reflection of the good and bad aspects of power and humanity on many levels. It is a fact that people choose to openly ignore dire situations and walk past. Such social ignorance is widespread in this country and it pains to see that it wins over humanity in most cases. The lackadaisical behavior of the state civil force (at times) leads to wastage of time and leads to more damage, in this case, to life than is thinkable. Politics is synonymous with power and sometimes it helps those in need to get work done quickly overruling institutional protocols after all a human life cannot be above protocols! And at times, renowned and powerful medical practitioners take advantage of their ‘cases’ to gain visibility and fame. Even though doctors are held in high esteem, such spineless doctors need to be called out for playing with the lives and sensitiveness of their patients. The book gives a glimpse of all the above factors which take Reshma’s journey forward through ups and downs.

For a young girl who dreams of a certain future to be suffering for factors beyond her control strikes a chord with the readers. The auto-biography openly talks about the emotional impact of an acid-attack survivor. The primary feeling is of anger on fate and on the people for having destroyed an innocent life. The pent up anguish, anxiety, and blame come up to the lips once in a while. Apart from this, she deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which leads her to contemplate and attempt suicide. But the most important part of the emotional journey is to accept the ‘new you’.  Though terrified at first Reshma eventually learns to accept herself and carries herself with confidence and poise. Unfortunately, society is definitely such that stigma remains and it cannot be completely undone. But acceptance helps in reducing the impact of this stigma on an individual.

While part of Reshma’s journey is about recovering from her past, a  turning point in her life is also her friendship and involvement with Ria Sharma and her start-up Make Love Not Scars. Ria can best be described as Reshma’s friend, philosopher, and guide who relentlessly helps her heal and ultimately transform into an Indian model and vlogger and an International Anti Acid-Sale Activist. The journey starts from crowdfunding for her operations and medical treatments to become the face of the NGO through a Youtube #EndAcidSale campaign and ultimately being the only Acid – Attack survivor to walk the ramp with International Celebrities in The New York Fashion Week. Her endeavor to help other acid attack survivors are still going strong and has helped many other victims overcome the tragedy by having someone beside them who understand the pain that they are going through.

Make Love Not Scars is an NGO whose ‘mission is to provide dignity and independence to acid attack survivors through medical, legal, educational, vocational, and psychological rehabilitation.’ If you want to make a difference to another life then you should definitely visit the website and see how best you can contribute to the cause.

Being Reshma should definitely feature on your reading list if you have not yet read it; simply to know about the courageous journey of two young girls -Reshma and Ria, who went on to inspire thousands around the world.

No. of Pages: 258

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Available on:Amazon/ Flipkart / Snapdeal

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstad, observes the day to day progress in the life of Sultan Khan – a bookseller in Kabul- and pens the nuances in The Bookseller of Kabul. Sultan, a dignified and righteous man owns a bookshop and fights to keep it running amidst a country torn by wars and political coups. His dream is to make resources available to every individual in the country-, especially for school-going children. What is appalling is the contrast of liberalism of sharing knowledge and the rules of staunch patriarchy displayed by Sultan. Through Sultan’s family, relations and their life, Seierstad puts forward the daily life of an Afghani individual, be it a man or a woman.

With Sultan being the strict disciplinarian and the perfect personification of the family patriarch, his family members follow his orders not by choice but by fear. His eldest son Mansur is forced to run his bookshop and other errands but wants to break free and complete his education. While his second son Eqbal, also dreams of going to school one day, his youngest, Aimul hasn’t even seen what a school looks like. It is indeed a paradox that a man who dreams of providing education to all children removes his own from schools prematurely. His sister’s marriage is a hurried giving away of an ‘object’ stored for too long at home. His mother is an institution of contemplation, living more in the past, than in the present. His youngest sister, Leila is a hard-working, unmarried, young girl who dreams of breaking the shackles of bondage and escaping someday for her own good. The narrative builds on these characters and takes the story forward.

The Bookseller of Kabul is a portal to a culture torn by politics and ruled over by men, almost untouched by modernity and equality in any form. Sultan, having been married for years and fathering three children with his first wife, goes out in search of his second wife. Every eligible daughter’s parents only want to give in to his demand and marry off their young girl despite a difference of several years because they want to gain a higher footing in the Afghan society by marrying off their daughter to a respected man. Sultan’s second wife ‘was petrified, paralysed by fear. She did not want the man but she knew she had to obey her parents. As Sultan’s wife her standing in Afghan society would go up considerably. The bride money would solve many of her family’s problems. The money would help her parents buy good wives for their sons.’  It is interesting to notice how brides are ‘bought’ almost as if buying clothes in the market- if one is worn out after a couple of years, get a new one! Love is a taboo with dire consequences like forced marriages, honour-killing, and even suicide. These pent up feelings of women which they are unable to put forth in the society often find their way into poems –‘Give me your hand, my loved one and we will hide in the meadow, To love or fall down beneath the knife stabs’.

The footing of a woman in  Afghan society is as good as being absent. In the male-heavy atmosphere, the voice of a lowly woman often gets lost. Such is the situation with Sultan’s youngest sister- Leila- who ‘often repeats herself, because she thinks she is not being heard’.  Following the storyline, it is quite obvious that the men of the family were applauded for the little things that they do and ‘the Khan family is not in the habit of celebrating women’.  Leila’s existence reflects the condition of thousands of women in a country where there exists no female individuality. They are only known to the society and the world as a shadow of ‘their men’.

While women have no voice of their own, men on the other hand, have both voice and domination that start from a very young age. Sultan’s eldest Mansur had been witness to his friend’s temptations at his own shop. Filled with guilt, he decides to make the arduous journey to Mazhar-e-Sharif to pray and beg for forgiveness. The description of the journey gives a respite to the readers as they can imagine the serene mountains and terrains of the country and not wonder at the ruthlessness of the people living in it. A shrine for contemplation, self-assessment, and pilgrimage becomes so beautiful a place to travel to, that Mansur gets engrossed in its pleasure and awe; and forgets the primary motive that brought him there. What gives him sleepless nights at first, gradually disappears from his mind altogether and a sin remains unacknowledged.

Sins and crimes are committed very often in Afghanistan. The socio-political condition, the rising poverty level, and an economy which will take years to recover, often lead men from poverty-stricken backgrounds to commit crimes such as theft, murder, or suicide. If caught, the penalty is also massive! But one needs to ponder as to who is to be blamed for the situation. And when someone tries to steal from Sultan, the consequences are disastrous for the criminal and his innocent family!

Hard-hitting, eye-opening and full of nuances of the Afghani culture, The Bookseller of Kabul is a picture of paradoxes between liberalism and patriarchy shown through the relation that Sultan shares with his family. A portrait of dominance over women, relationship, and poor; and of temptations over ethics, this book is a good read.

No. of Pages: 276

Publisher: Virago Press, Hachette UK

Availability: Amazon/ Flipkart

Rating: 3.5/5

There’s Gunpowder in the Air: Manoranjan Byapari translated by Arunava Sinha

‘Dripping from Rajat’s bullet-riddled chest the blood took on the shape of India’s map as it flowed down the wall’

Set against the backdrop of  Bengal’s Naxalite movement in the ’70s, There’s Gunpowder in the Air is a daunting description of the activities within the four walls of a correctional home.  What laymen understand to be a place for robbers, murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and those who have gone against the law; the jails, are a world on their own. The daily happenings within the precincts are elaborately described in the novel.

It all begins with the imprisonment of five Naxal revolutionaries. Young educated men, who stay away from regular jail gossips but definitely have a philosophy and determination of their own to fight against the injustices brought upon them by feudalism. When a petty thief Bhagoban is sent in as a spy by the jailor to be amongst them, and to take note of their vicious plans, does the story pick up pace. However, what happens when Bhagoban starts having a change of heart upon meeting the young comrades?

The novel is complete with all the small nuances of prison life. The story of a bandaged ghost called Bandiswala keeps everyone on their feet, especially on full moon nights. In fact, the poor ghost was found easier to blame for anything that went awry rather than suspecting living men. His story has often been reiterated and discussed along with the lack of ritualistic initiatives to cordon off the evil spirit. If a wicked ghost wasn’t enough, stories of pilferages with the common rations and smuggling substances of abuse were not far behind. Gossips always pointed a finger towards ‘abc’ or ‘xyz’ including both jail guards and prisoners.  But hardly could anyone ever be caught in the act; and even if one was, there were ways to move out of trouble.

Amidst all the comic and witty turns, what Byapari explores the best throughout the novel is human emotions.  Hunger and poverty were always common reasons leading to one becoming a petty thief or a rogue. Outside the disciplined walls, each had their own families. Though they were allowed to meet them, many were disowned and many were shameful of their children being called ‘children of the criminal’. These pent up emotions along with severe ideological affiliations often led them to act on chance. Sometimes leading to their success and at other times, brutally crippling their will, for the rest of their lives or worse, curbing their lives itself.

There’s Gunpowder in the Air is just not the name of the novel, but holds much significance as a symbol of revolt, freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice and duty. Gunpowder is usually used for rifles, guns and the likes which are used for various illegal purposes upfront; but to me, it signifies rebellion – an act put together by many. Every individual taking part in the rebellion or its trial suffers from extreme emotional upheaval but their decision to take part in it or not; and to live up to the expectations of other comrades is their decision alone. Freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice; and duty are the results of the actions that one performs during a rebellion. Each individual holds great significance and their contributions can never be compared to one another.

Byapari weaves a lucid tale of Naxal prisoners in erstwhile Bengal fighting for their Rights and Motherland by radical means. But Rebellions owe as much to Fate as to the individuals who take part in it; and their success or failures are divided between both. Only time will tell the story of the Naxal prisoners and their Fate during their imprisonment.

Definitely a must-read whether in Bangla- Batashe Baruder Gandha-or in English to understand the psyche of the perceived rebels. The book is bound to raise questions about the pre-conceived notions about the Naxalities and make you revisit the era and re-interpret the ideologies in a new light.

No. of pages: 162

Publisher: Eka, Westland

Available on:Amazon/ Flipkart

Translated from: (Bengali) Batashe Baruder Gandha

3 Steps to Darkness by Deepta Roy Chakraverti

With book fair being one of my favorite hauntings in the city, I was quite happy to know that Deepta’s new book would be available there. It has been almost three years since her last book Cursed at Kedarnath was released.  Even though I missed her book signing at the Book Fair I made it a point to not miss picking up the book and added it to my book haul from Book Fair 2020.  Incidentally, the name of the book ‘3 Steps . . . . . ‘ became quite relevant because it t was only in my third attempt in visiting the stall,  that the book was finally in my hands.

3 Steps to Darkness is a portal to ancient practices that coexist with modernity through reality or the undead.  Three short stories talking of witches, fairies and dolls which are often resorted to, to satisfy one’s own desires, make up the contents of the book. What is interesting to note is that the three objects of power are synonymous with women, making the readers interpret the power of women in light or darkness.

Armed with strong characters and even stronger desires, 3 Steps to Darkness makes it for a fine read to understand the darkness within ourselves more than outside. Power, desire, jealousy, unfulfilled wishes, denial, lust, greed and more are all within and once we succumb to any of them, it is only a matter of time till evil engulfs us.

The author takes the reader through a back and forth journey, separated by decades or centuries through her writing. The detailed description of the places and people would remind you of reading a Ruskin Bond, only with a different form of depth to it. While reading you would never feel the distance between today and the era gone by. The narrative flow gives power to your imagination and creativity to visualize it in front of you.

With three different stories, of three eras and locations; it was very hard to choose my favorite.  Thus, giving you a gist of all three.

Witches Never Forget

Set in Vienna today and in the 16th Century, it tells the story of Elsa and Anna; and how innocent women were subjected to witch-hunts by powerful oppressors. I have often wondered how women being hunted as a practitioner of dark arts have always been more than men. Or is it the patriarchal way of eliminating those they thought were weak? It is also interesting how those the mass looks up to and idolizes often mislead them for the benefit of strengthening their own position in society. The unimaginable torture, forget the term human rights, often lead to the formation of vengeful spirits who keep alive in their memories the injustice done to them and tell their stories in whispers, to those who can listen.

The Curse of Fairy Hill

I remember visiting Mussoorie with my parents for a vacation almost a decade ago. Even then I had felt that the cold winds and scenic beauty had much more than what met the eye! Set during the Raj, The Curse of Fairy Hill tells the story of an illustrious King and the Queen. The Queen overlooks the matters of the Kingdom winning the hearts of the people; after the King suffered an accident. The only wish she ever had was to have a loving and loyal husband; and to fulfill her desire, she wished at the Pari Tibba or the Fairy Hill. But it is often seen that what is granted to us is what we might need rather than want. And when a tweak in wish-fulfillment is met with denial of the same a boon might turn into a curse.

Darling Child

Like all married couples, Arun and Lila wanted a child. But to their utter dismay,  all natural and medical procedures betrayed them.  During a trip to Bangkok they met an old woman and found their Darling Child – Sunaina. But what happens when Lila gets pregnant and delivers a second child? This story highlights very contemporary situations and how a dark art is often fused in as a solution; only, is it a solution?  The family pressure of bearing a child; becoming blind in the desire of children so as to go to any lengths; the effect the arrival of a new child has on the elder one; the sadness of losing children – are all depicted in the story. But it is also intertwined with how dark arts has a feeling of its own and manifests its power by manipulating feelings and situations.

If you are into spine chilling stories then 3 Steps to Darkness is definitely the book to look forward to. You may not find ghosts and draculas here but who said subtlety cannot leave you frozen and speechless!

No. of Pages: 106

Publisher: Crossed Arrows, Doshor Publication

Available on: Amazon

Finding Chika by Mitch Albom

Very rarely are times when you read a book and really do not know how to put your feelings on paper, and Finding Chika is one such book. Years after reading Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom‘s Finding Chika rendered me speechless and in tears.  This review is my tribute to young Chika, who, though a young girl was a fierce fighter – and a fighter with gigantic hope and smiles. That is how she should be remembered and celebrated for those who would come to know her story through the book.

Born in Haiti and having survived the devastating earthquake, Chika was brought to the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage run by Albom and his wife Janine. Friendly and enthusiastic as was her nature, there was never a dull moment with her around. But the diagnosis of a terminal disease compelled her to relocate to America for treatment, and this is where the journey of a family began.

Just as hope is said to be the brightest star in dark times; Chika became the brightest star that ended the dark days of many people’s lives. She was the happiness that Mitch and Janine lacked in their lives, for she gave them the gift of parenthood. She was the hope; strength and resolution that made Mitch and Janine become doting parents and shoulder the responsibility of a child they loved dearly. Chika was a daughter, a friend, a family through relations; but in reality, she was the personification of hope, strength, resolution, dreams, happiness, and care. She was also the face of a young patient diagnosed with the fatal DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) or brain tumor in layman’s words; a patient full of life and energy to live each day as if there is no tomorrow.

While reading Finding Chika it felt as if Albom was having a conversation with Chika and listing down all the lessons that she taught him. She was fiercely attached and protective of Mitch and Janine which evoked the same feeling in them. The couple tried their very best in terms of giving hope, staying by her side day and night, getting in touch with the best doctors in the field and even traveling across continents for their little one.

Body Contentment:

For Chika, it was a journey of transformation- psychological and physical. But she was adaptive to both. Like every young girl, she fancied make-up and accessories and tried to blend them onto her appearances. She was happy with the way she looked! This is a lesson taught to the world where society often resorts to body shaming tactics. Many individuals, as a result, grow excessively conscious of the way they look which takes a toll on their mental and physical health. What we need to learn is to accept our identity and be content with it.

Spending Quality Time with people:

Chika found happiness in smaller things- beautiful dresses, hairclips, a visit to Disneyland, talking to people, spending time with people, visiting her friends, etc. Today, most people spend their time in the digital space without acknowledging the physical presence of the person beside. Today, people Whatsapp each other despite being in the same room! But Chika believed in spending time with her loved ones- endless stories, laughter and a little bit of being naughty- were the perfect features of Being Chika.

Redefining strength:

Children are often gullible and vulnerable, but Chika was not. She was the epitome of strength keeping in mind the terminal disease she was diagnosed with and the medicines, treatments and its side effects that she had to deal with at such a young age. She was tough and through her little way of coexisting with her disease, made it known to everyone that toughness is not always heroic sometimes it is silence with a smile.

Right to Choose:

With Chika being born to Haitian parents and later taken in by Mitch and Janine, her pure love for the latter made it very clear that children often choose whom to love. This goes beyond the biological norms of society. Some relations are born out of love, respect, and care and not out of one’s womb.

The Feeling of completeness

Just as a woman holds the family together with care, Chika held the couple together and turned their happy married life into happy parenthood. She completed the duo and made them a family. She made them more responsible for the needs of a child and taught them to keep the concerns of the child before their commitments.

Defining Legacy:

‘What we carry defines who we are

And the effort we make is our legacy’.

The last life lesson that Chika exemplified would always remain with the readers. It is how she carried herself and the effort she gave internally to show it. She created her own legacy through fighting hardships with smiles and spreading joy in the lives of all she knew.

Immortalized through the pages of the book Chika’s journey truly exemplified how she fought against time along with Mitch and Janine . . . . for one more day . . . .

The Last Wonders of Bali: Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur

As they say, ‘save the best for the last’, and thus the two best places were saved for the last day of my Bali sojourn. Both the Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur were quite a distance from Kuta and I had to start off very early to have enough time to reach and explore these beauties.

Gates of Heaven 

The Lempuyang Temple nestled amidst the slopes of Mount Lempuyang in East Bali is probably the most photogenic place I have seen so far. Also called The Gates of Heaven, it does take a lot of determination, strength, sweat, and toil to overcome almost perpendicular roads, around 1700 steps and reach the height of 1175 m above sea level to knock on the Gates of Heaven, on Earth!  It takes skills to climb up to the temple from the mountain base where the Agung temple is situated; but there are facilities for car parking, local transport and shared transportation making life easier for tourists. The entry to the temple costs 20,000 Rupiah per person. Being a temple, it is also mandatory to wear a Sarong, cover the shoulders and tie back your hair.

The Temple is so named because it seems as if beyond the doors of the temple one would enter the portal to heaven. The altitude and sky-touching height give it an illusion that one is nestled between the clouds.  It makes for a very popular tourist destination in Bali and clicking a photograph here is a must.  There are also special photographers whom you can hire to take your photos. The film is developed and handed over instantly. But, mind the line it often amounts to hundreds waiting in the queue.

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Way to the Temple 
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Gates of Heaven

Mount Batur

Never did I ever think that while studying volcanoes in Geography I would be able to see one with my own eyes. What was instantly thrilling and scary at the same time was the fact that the Batur Volcano was an active one and the last eruption was not so long ago.  It takes almost 2 hours to reach Mount Batur from the Gates of Heaven. Bali in October can be really hot but Mount Batur’s ride uphill made up for it- it was freezing cold! Do carry warm clothes even if you visit during summer for you would need it.

The first documented eruption from Mount Batur took place is 1804 and then again in 2000. In September 2012, it was declared as a UNESCO Global Geoparks Network. It is interesting to note that there are settlements surrounding the volcano. I was not so daring as to visit the volcano from these villages but it was still a beautiful sight, seeing it from the mountain slopes. It almost resembled the mall roads of Indian hill-stations.

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Mount and Lake Batur 

Lake Batur

It is the volcanic Crater Lake formed due to the multiple eruptions in Mount Batur. The settlements around the Lake influence the agriculture and aquaculture of the region. It is also a source of several hot springs.

Batur Geopark Museum  

Previously called the Museum of Volcano Batur, it was renamed after Mount Batur was given a status among the UNESCO sites. It showcases the history of the region through dioramas. The entry fee for the museum is 20,000 Rupiahs. It is open Mon to Fri – 8 am to 4 pm, and Sat and Sun 8 am – 2 pm. If you are interested in Geography or Geology, then a visit to this museum is a must.

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Batur Geopark Museum 

Rice Fields

I had previously written to you about my experience visiting the Tegalalang Rice Fields. While that was a touristy experience; this was a rustic chanced sighting of the entire harvesting process. On my way to Kuta, I just happened to see numerous men and women working on the rice fields tending to it. The various different processes opened up in layers in front of me. What more, I could go closer and take photographs.

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Work in the fields 

Bali Foodgasm

Food in Bali varies to a great degree reflecting cosmopolitanism. You would find small shacks serving meatballs, soups, and rice with vegetables and meat; and you would also find pubs, restaurants, and branded cafes and hotel chains. I would personally recommend meatballs, sticky rice, and pork ribs. These three were my favorite. Another interesting find was flavors of drinks and snacks from known brands – Grape and Apple Fanta, SeaWeed Lays, etc. Of course in India, these are unheard of, probably because the market has not been very welcoming to them.

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To the best Food in Bali – Smoked Pork Ribs 

And with a planeload of memories and experiences, it was time to bid goodbye to this beautiful island. My departure coincided with Halloween and it was a wonder to see costume flash mob at the Bali airport. Young men and women were dressed up as witches, wizards, draculas, and widows to entertain the passengers. This time too it was Malindo Airlines with their perfect hospitality. A three-hour journey from Bali to Kuala Lumpur; and then another four hours to Kolkata- to home. It was almost past midnight when I landed in Kolkata- the streets were vacant and peaceful but in my head, numerous thoughts were buzzing about Bali, about the experience, about telling my close ones about the stay and of course, about writing it down on my blog!

That was all about my Bali Travels. I would soon be back with other travel stories. Due to the global crisis of the Novel Coronas Virus, it is an unsafe time to travel at the moment. In a country experiencing Lockdown, this is the time to think about self-improvement, spending time with family and pets, catching up on reading and some tips for self-sustainability. Till the situation is better, take care and do catch up on my book reviews from next week.